All ‘quiet’ on the airport front: New airport manager recruitment grounded
With the retirement of the embattled airport manager and the search continuing for a new airline to serve the Arcata-Eureka Airport, county Department of Public Works Director Tom Mattson said he will be taking over operations for the “foreseeable future.”
“Things are going to be tight for a while,” Mattson said. “Hopefully, with a new name, new airline, and increased revenue, that will all change.”
Mattson said the name change to the California Redwood Coast Humboldt County Airport, which was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors at the end of May, will be complete following approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The FAA needs to notify all sorts of divisions,” he said. “I can’t really tell how long that will take.”
Mattson said the estimated $15,000 cost to the county will be for new signs.
He also said he doesn’t know when the county will begin searching for a new airport manager, but he can handle the additional responsibilities in the interim.
“Things have been quiet here for a while with only the one airline,” he said.
Public Works, with aid from the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, has been trying to attract a new airline to the area since Horizon Air terminated its service in April 2011.
“We’re competing with 400 airports or so for service,” Mattson said. “There are only so many planes that can go around.”
Airport Program Coordinator Emily Jacobs, who is working on the recruitment effort, said she attended meetings with various airlines in August and September, but declined to disclose the carriers.
She said she has been presenting the airlines with studies on the airport’s retention and route possibilities.
“Retention has been steady, but has decreased since we lost the last airline,” Jacobs said.
Mattson said the airport’s budget was around $300,000 in the negative, due to a lack of revenue, in the previous two fiscal years. He said the division is working to bring up that balance, and is now around $75,000 in the positive.
Officials said budget shortfalls forced the county to look at cuts and layoffs within the division — including Jacobs’ position. Her post was saved at the last minute after the county received notice — the night before a May vote on the issue — that Jacquelyn Hulsey intended to step down after 10 years as airport manager.
Two airport service workers and one groundskeeper were transferred to other divisions within the county.
Mattson said landscaping work is being deferred so workers can focus on safety over aesthetics. He said the search for a new airport manager is not likely to begin without a new airline to bring in revenue.